“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.”John 5:22-30
We are looking at how the judgment of God works. If you have not read previous parts of this study, we have linked to each one at the bottom of this article and invite you to read them. We’d also like to invite you to read the Introduction and Parts One and Two of our new companion series, God’s Justice: How It Works.
We are currently looking at three primary views about the thousand-year reign of Christ – known as the Millennium. The first view we studied is known as Amillennialism. The second was Post-Millennialism. We began looking at the the third view, Pre-Millennialism, in our last article which you can read here.
Pre-Millennialists believe Jesus Christ will rapture (catch up, snatch away, seize) members of His Body from earth to meet Him in the air and be with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4). Those who have died in Christ will rise first, then those who are alive at the time will quickly follow (twinkling of an eye – 1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Corinthians 15).
There are three views of Pre-Millennialism: Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation and Post-Tribulation. As you can tell by the names each one is identified with a particular view of Christ’s return for His Body based on the Tribulation Period. Let’s spend a few minutes reminding ourselves about the Tribulation Period, then we’ll look at the first of the three Pre-Millennial views.
The Tribulation Period
The first time we see the Tribulation Period mentioned in the Bible is Daniel 9:24-27 where the angel Gabriel explained a vision that God had shown to Daniel –
“… therefore consider the matter, and understand the vision: Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. ‘Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. ‘And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate.”
Jesus referred to this vision in Matthew 24. Notice that He called that period of time the ‘great tribulation.’
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place’ (whoever reads, let him understand), ‘then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house. And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.”Matthew 24:15-22
Jesus went on to tell His disciples something that has led many Christians to believe the ‘Great Tribulation’ will precede Christ’s physical return to earth to establish His Kingdom –
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”Matthew 24:29-30
Many Bible scholars believe the period of time Gabriel referred to as “the middle of the week” may be the beginning of what Jesus called the ‘great tribulation.’ The prince making a covenant “with many” would be the start of the tribulation period, but the ‘great tribulation’ would begin in the middle of that seven-year period (week).
With that background about the Tribulation, let’s begin looking at how Pre-Millennialists view the timing of Christ snatching up (rapturing) His Church prior to the Millennium.
Keep in mind what Paul wrote about the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 (you can link here for previous study on that topic).
Pre-Millennialists who believe the rapture will occur before the beginning of the Tribulation Period are known as Pre-Trib (Pre-Tribulation). Given the verses we’ve already seen from Paul, you may wonder why someone would come to that conclusion. Did Paul know something and say something else that would lead Christians to think Jesus might snatch up His Body prior to the beginning of the Tribulation? (You can more read about the Tribulation here and here.) Yes, Paul did.
Keep in mind that the Apostle Paul had unique insights into future events –
“It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities. For though I might desire to boast, I will not be a fool; for I will speak the truth. But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me.”2 Corinthians 12:1-6
God gave Paul special visions and revelations in Paradise several years before he began preaching at Antioch in Syria and his missionary journeys with Barnabas and Silas. He “heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter,” but those visions and revelations certainly gave him tremendous insight into the glory that is to come for Christians. The Holy Spirit also inspired Paul to write his letters, so we are assured that what he wrote is true.
Several months after writing his first letter to the Thessalonians where he described the rapture (caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air), Paul wrote a second letter. The Christians there were enduring persecutions and tribulations (trouble and trials) and Paul wrote to tell them that God would repay the people who troubled them –
“We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other, so that we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.”2 Thessalonians 1:3-10
Paul then wrote about “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1). The Greek word for gathering together is ἐπισυναγωγῆς (episunagōgēs) and means “an assembling together, a grouping together, a gathering together.” Paul went on to write that the time of that gathering (the saints resurrection) had not yet happened and that it would not happen until a particular thing happened –
“… not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”2 Thessalonians 2:2-4
Before the “day of Christ” there will be “the falling away comes first.” The Greek word used there is ἀποστασία (apostasia). The word means “revolt, defection.” It literally means “a leaving from a previous standing, departure, desertion.” We know that the “day of Christ” is the return of the Lord to “gather” His people because of what he wrote in verse 1.
Paul also wrote something else that might help us determine a timing for the gathering together (rapture).
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”2 Thessalonians 2:5-11
Many Bible scholars believe the “lawless one” of 2 Thessalonians is the same person Gabriel mentioned in Daniel 9 (“the prince who is to come”), Jesus mentioned in Matthew 24 (“abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place”), and the Apostle John pointed to in 1 John 2 (“as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming”) and the Book of Revelation (“the beast”).
As Paul wrote in the middle of the 1st century AD, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” We can confirm that it still at work in the 21st century. Paul then wrote, “only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.” The word “restrains” in the Greek is κατέχον (katechon). It means “hold fast, hold back, detain, arrest, bind, restrain.” Something or someone is currently restraining, holding back lawlessness “now, at present” until ἐκ μέσου γένηται – “out of the midst he might be gone.”
Christians who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture believe the One who is restraining lawlessness is the Holy Spirit.
Remember what Jesus told the apostles about the work of the Holy Spirit in the world –
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”John 16:8-11
Jesus also told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them “into all truth” (John 16:13).
We know that the Holy Spirit is Omnipresent, so He won’t disappear from the earth. However, if the Holy Spirit stopped convicting the world of sin, righteousness and judgment and no longer guided Christians into all truth, what would happen in the world? Why would the Holy Spirit stop guiding Christians into all truth on earth? Unless … all Christians were gone from the earth. If all believers, living and dead, were caught up together in the clouds to be with Jesus forever (1 Thessalonians 4), the Spirit of God could remove His restraining influence from the earth. What could happen when He does that?
“… And then the lawless one will be revealed … The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
The lawless one is revealed when the Holy Spirit no longer restrains (holds back) lawlessness on the earth. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan. The lawless one will be revealed through the power of Satan along with signs, lying wonders and unrighteous deception among those who perish. Who are those people “who perish”? They are the people who “did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” That means all non-Christians.
The rapture (caught up) of every Christian alive and dead would certainly grab the attention of the media and the people left on earth. The lawless one would use the power of Satan to deceive those left on earth. PLUS, “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie.” Notice the part God plays on the people of earth after Christians are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. He will send the people remaining on earth “strong delusion.” The Greek is ἐνέργειαν πλάνης, “an energetic working of roaming delusion.” Why does God do that? Because the people left on earth did not receive God’s great gift of love through His Son, Jesus Christ, “that they might be saved.”
Not only does the lawless one use the power of Satan to deceive the unsaved people on earth with “the lie,” but God adds to that a strong delusion that those people should believe “the lie.” What lie? Remember what the lawless one will do? He will come in the power of Satan “with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish.” The lawless one will be just like his father, Satan, who is the father of all lies.
The lawless one will tell many lies during his rule on the earth, but one of the earliest lies may be about what happened to hundreds of millions of people who suddenly disappear. Something like that would bring great fear on people who were still on the earth. They would have many questions and the lawless one would be able, in the power of Satan, to deceive them. The lawless one would also tell lies about what the people left on earth need to do to survive after the disappearance of a large number of people from the planet. The lawless one will use the power of Satan to convince the people of earth to follow him and that would begin the Tribulation period.
Tribulation For Israel, Not Church
Many people who are Pre-Trib believe that the Tribulation period is for Israel, not the Church. They believe Daniel 9, Matthew 24 and most of the Book of Revelation (from chapters 6 to 19) are written about Israel during the Tribulation and that the Church is nowhere in sight because Christians have been caught up to be with Christ.
There are many reasons for that perspective, but here are several –
- Old Testament prophets described the Tribulation period as “the time of Jacob’s trouble” and described it as a time when God would punish the nations and exalt Israel. (e.g. Jeremiah 30; Isaiah 54; 61; 66; Zechariah 12; Ezekiel 38)
- Old Testament prophets knew nothing about the Church, the Body of Christ, that Jesus would “create in Himself one new man from the two.” (Ephesians 2:15)
- The Apostle Paul taught that the Church had been a “mystery” until the Holy Spirit revealed it – “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.” (Ephesians 3)
- Paul wrote in Romans 11 about another mystery concerning Israel and the Church – “For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them When I take away their sins.”
The Church (Gentiles and Jews as one new man) is being saved now. The Church will be full one day (fullness of the Gentiles has come in) and God will save Israel according to His promises made through the prophets. When the Church reaches that “fullness,” all Christians (alive and dead) will be caught up (raptured) to meet the Lord in the air and be with Him forever.
The Prophet Jeremiah called the Tribulation “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). That’s consistent with what we see in most of the Revelation. God will judge the world and bring an end to the rule of nations, especially as it relates to Israel (Jacob). It will also be a time of judgment for Israel, though God will save His people through it.
“For I am with you,’ says the Lord, ‘to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, Yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, And will not let you go altogether unpunished.’” Jeremiah 30:11Jeremiah 30:11
Concerning God’s wrath poured out on the earth, Paul was clear that the Church would be delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). That’s in the same letter where Paul reminded the Thessalonians that Jesus would return for them in the air and catch them up to Him “in the clouds”: some who had died and some who would still be alive –
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”1 Thessalonians 4:15-18
The Pre-Tribulationist would view Scripture pointing to a rapture (catching up) of the Church prior to the beginning of the Tribulation period where God would judge the Gentile world and rescue the Jewish people.
If you have not read all of the parts of this study, we invite you to do that now for the Scriptural background to Christ as Judge.
- Part One
- Part Two
- Part Three
- Part Four
- Part Five
- Part Six
- Part Seven
- Part Eight
- Part Nine
- Part Ten
- Part Eleven
- Part Twelve
- Part Thirteen
We will look at the Mid-Tribulation view in the next part of our special series “God’s Judgment: How It Works.”
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.